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Food and farming sector needs modernisation

by the Fish Site Editor
17 July 2007, at 1:00am

VIET NAM - Vietnam needs to modernise its agriculture and fish production systems if it is to be competitive and become more self-reliant within an increasingly global trading market. It has the potential to be a key player, but it will have to restructure its farming sector, educate its work force and learn to add-value to its products for it to succeed.

Protecting farm produce

Dr. Nguyen Huu Dung, deputy head of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), said that there should be some changes made in adding-value to farm produce. 'Added value' is the key to the way farmers approach their work, rather than simply concentrating on quantity of product output.

According to Mr. Dung, planning and focused production are essential for the growth of farming, and the requirements of quality and food hygiene and safety must be satisfied.

China, Thailand and Myanmar have begun to farm tra and basa catfish, traditionally raised in Vietnam. However, with a proper investment policy and basic research on this breed of fish, Vietnam can continue to be the main exporter of such catfish.

Taiwan has a dedicated research institute for tilapia (African carp) in order to maintain its position as the number one breeder and exporter of this type of fish.

To become a more powerful country in the export of agricultural products, Vietnam needs to strive for a top position in terms of quality, research and technology to add product value to its produce and improve farmer incomes.

Re-determining key crops

According to Dr. Nguyen Quoc Vong, an expert from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in Australia, Vietnam’s agricultural and fisheries sectors have revealed serious shortcomings in terms of production lines, post-harvest technology, quality and particularly food hygiene and safety.

Vietnam is a leading exporter of agricultural and aquatic product yet the majority of its work force is unskilled. Also, the planning, research and technology needed to add value to their produce is poor, and the combination causes instability in the agriculture sector.

Technology is also limited, with less than efficienct production techniques, poor breeding and outdated pre- and post-harvest systems. As a result farm incomes remain low.

The agricultural industry needs restructuring. Unlike the present situation, where farmers simply plant the crops that yield the biggest harvest, producers are being asked to decide carefully which crops will yield the most profit, which crops are best suited to the land and which can be produced at a high quality.

On the WTO playground, fruits and vegetables are the largest import/export goods, worth nearly US$103 billion per annum. However, Vietnam’s recent export of fruit and vegetables has been sluggish and heavily dependent on the Chinese market. Vietnam’s market is not using its full potential here.

Exports of rice, coffee and rubber have declined to only US$10 billion per year with other export commodities, like tea, cashew nuts and pepper, declining further at about US$3 billion per year.

Monoculture, the wrong culture
Farming in Vietnam is mainly monoculture; farmers are only using their land to farm one type of crop all year around. About seven million hectares of rice fields are cultivated annually; accounting for 74 percent of all agricultural land, 15 percent is for monoculture of rubber and coffee (one million hectares), and 1.4 million hectares is used to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers. Food crops reap the lowest profit per unit area and so Vietnam’s farmers continue to earn low incomes.

The Government’s investment in labour, research, land fertilisation and training for farming of rice and other crops is unbalanced. Choosing crops and planning rotations in terms of economy and effective land use are crucial.

VietGap Needed Urgently

Dr. Joseph Ekman from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in Australia said that, in order to enter the WTO successfully and join the world market, Vietnam must be able to provide commodities that can meet the food hygiene and safety requirements of Good Agricultural Practice.

All WTO members have their own requirements for food hygiene and safety; for example, the EU has EuroGAP, and Australia has Fresh Care. These requirements are not only used for consumer health protection, but also as a technical barrier to restrict certain imports.

Therefore, before identifying key crop plants and meeting technical requirements requested by export nations, Vietnam needs to refer to AseanGap, which was issued in November 2006, and study the requirements of EuroGap if it is to set up its own 'VietGap' hygiene and safety regulations. The introduction of a subsidised training programme for farmers, in line with WTO requirements, would also be beneficial.

If successful, the VietGap could be used as a means of protecting its agricultural production and markets by requesting that imported agricultural products meet specific regulations.

the Fish Site Editor